Sustainable food is about sustainable agriculture, food distribution, and food choices that allow us to produce healthful food while preserving future generations’ ability to do the same. And, yes, it really does matter. A lot. In 2011, a global consortium of scientists published a study aimed at determining whether or not we could feed the world’s population without destroying the environment and, thus, ourselves. We could, they say, but only if we change five things in combination: halt farmland expansion, close yield gaps, use inputs more strategically, shift diets, and reduce waste. Sustainable food may seem like an abstract concept, but those principles can be translated to concrete actions everyone can easily take.
Support a Local Food System
Many issues we face regarding uneven food distribution, food waste, and inefficient food production have to do with our current global food system, wherein food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get from where it’s produced to our plates.
However, we have a lot of choice, via our wallets and habits, in the kind of food system we encourage. We can shop for locally sourced food at markets, farmers markets, local farms and community supported agriculture operations, and co-ops. We can also use some of our 40.5 million acres of inedible, resource-guzzling lawn for food production. Sourcing and buying choices that encourage the development of a local foodshed go a long way toward getting healthful food into food deserts, reducing food waste, and growing crops in places that have the natural resources to support them. Visit theorganicadventurer.com and check out the Farms and Farmers Market tabs to get an idea of what’s available.
Eat Regionally and In Season
Part of supporting a local food system is eating the food that grows where you live, when it grows there. For Floridians, that might mean getting blueberries from the local farm in May or June, rather than in a plastic container from Chile in the grocery store in January. Again, it’s a matter of using our wallets and habits to cut down on fossil fuel food miles and, by the way, to stimulate our local economies. But that means knowing what grows in your area and when. There is guidance online at, for example, Pick Your Own and at your local and/or state extension, but my favorite way is to join a local CSA or shop the local farmers at farmers markets to see what they’re growing and when.
Here’s what that group of scientists had to say about animal agriculture: “Growing animal feed or biofuels on top croplands, no matter how efficiently, is a drain on human food supply. Dedicating croplands to direct human food production could boost calories produced per person by nearly 50 percent.” In other words, instead of using all our resources to feed animals that we then eat, we should cut out the “middlecow” and use the land to feed ourselves directly.
And, really, this is the easiest of changes that we could all implement immediately. Not only would it benefit the planet, we would be far healthier for it. You can get more information at websites like The Vegan Society, but also look for local Meet-Up groups, plant-based health and lifestyle coaches, green living consultants, and plant-based integrative medicine practitioners.
Eat Non-GMO Food Grown Organically, Biodynamically and Sustainably
This is a huge topic—probably one reason why people are so easily misled about it. The way the chemicals that genetically modified organisms were developed to sell work is complex, but once you take the time to understand it, the disastrous health, environmental, ecological and economic implications become clear. The video at youtu.be/yiU3Ndi6itk, featuring biologist and genetic engineer Dr. Thierry Vrain, is a good basic explanation. At its core, these chemicals are poisons that disrupt the ability of organisms to function. The delicate soil micro-organisms (and macro-organisms for that matter) upon which the long-term success of agriculture depends are not immune. In other words, we’re killing our soil with these chemicals. Dead soil equals no food, which is obviously not sustainable.
So it’s up to us to insist that our government agencies stop approving new GMOs and to refuse to buy products that contain GMOs. Instead, we can use our dollars to support those who work with nature to produce our food. This means purchasing from farmers who use sustainable techniques like cover-cropping, crop rotation, catch crops and so on. In the global market, it means looking for labels like “Organic,” “Non-GMO Project Verified,” and “Biodynamically Grown.”
One third of the food farms produce is discarded. Americans throw away 35 million tons of food a year. Ninety-seven percent of discarded food goes to landfills. We waste so much food that if we eliminated food waste in this country and got that previously wasted food to hungry people, we could completely eliminate hunger in this country.
Here are a few ideas for how you can stop contributing to food waste:
- Make a grocery list and stick to it.
- Buy locally! Local produce was likely picked the day you bought it, versus store-bought produce that may be almost two weeks old, and lasts much, much longer once you get it home.
- Learn how to properly store, prepare and preserve your food.
- Patronize restaurants that source food locally and serve reasonable portions.
- If you do shop in the grocery store, take “best by” dates with a grain of salt. There are no standards in applying these dates, and they’re often overly conservative.
- Turn the food waste you do produce into a resource by composting.
- Support outside-the-box initiatives like groceries and restaurants donating excess food rather than trashing it, municipal compost, and urban co-op farming, and support businesses that are already trying to do these things.
There’s SO much more we can do to eat sustainably and green up our food and agriculture systems, so don’t miss Eating Locally and Sustainably in Jacksonville at 1:00 at MOCA during GastroFest on March 19!